Even as the Centre and the Assam government have assured those who could not make it to the National Register of Citizen (NRC) draft – which was released on July 30 – not to worry as they would be given opportunities to register their claims and objections, there is palpable sense of fear and anxiety on the ground.
As many as seven ex-servicemen, whose names have been left out from the draft, have questioned who would guarantee that their names would be included after the claims and objections process. They said, despite serving the country for 30-35 years, they are “begging” for citizenship of the same country.
Over 2.8 crore (2,89,83,677) people have been included in the draft NRC. As many as 40,70,707 people – for being ineligible – have been left out. Of the 40,70,707 names, 37,59,630 names have been rejected and 2,48,077 names were kept on hold, NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela had submitted to the Supreme Court – which is supervising the citizens’ registery updating process – in a previous hearing.
Azmal Haque (51) – who retired as junior commissioned officer from the Indian Army from Hisar in Haryana after serving for 30 years – could not make it to the NCR draft despite submitting the legacy data of his mother whose name is mentioned in the NRC of 1951. He also submitted – as he claimed – the electoral roll record of 1966, in which his father’s name is mentioned. In addition, he said, he submitted land documents of 1942, 1943, 1945, 1957 and 1961 apart from a copy of his voters’ identity card, PAN Card and Aadhar card to establish his relation with his father.
He said that he also submitted birth certificates of his children and whatever was needed for the inclusion of the name of his family members. “The names of my mother, wife, my elder brother, his wife and four of his children and a daughter of my younger brother were included in the NRC draft. Me, two of children, my younger brother and rest of his children could not make it to the draft list,” Azmal, who belongs to Kalahikash village in Kamrup district of Assam, told Newsclick,adding, “This is the case of majority of those 40 lakh people whose names have not been included in the draft list”.
“I joined the Indian Army on September 13, 1986. I have spent a large part of my service in disturbed zones such as Jammu and Kashmir and China border. But when BJP President Amit Shah and the media calls us ‘guspaithiya’ (infiltrators), our blood boils. Many like us, including those who are still in service, could not make it to the draft list. It does not mean that we are infiltrators or illegal immigrants. We are not infiltrators, but bona fide citizens of the country, who have defended the mother land when needed,” he said.
When asked about the time given for claims and objections, he said, “What is the guarantee that our names would be included? Such promises were made earlier as well. We submitted the documents, underwent verification processes, but still our names were excluded. The story is the same for almost all the families. Can one brother be Indian and the rest foreigners?”
Talking about the anxiety and trauma they are facing after the publication of the citizenship draft, he said, “Only we know what we are feeling. Those who give their blood can feel what this pain is. It is very easy to say that everything will be okay after claims and objections. But we know the uncertainty. We can feel the imminent harassment. What will happen if the names don’t figure in the final list?”
Sanaullah, who retired on June 1, 2017 from the corps of the Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) of the Indian Army, after serving it for 30 years, was awarded the rank of honourary captain by the president on January 26, 2017. He was confident that he, along with his family, would be included in the draft list, as he had given all the valid documents such as his father’s electoral roll record of 1966 among others. But to his utter shock, he, his wife and his three children were not included in the NRC draft list.
“I had submitted the legacy data of my father, whose name is mentioned in the electoral roll record of 1966, land documents and the voters’ list, in which my name is mentioned. The same legacy documents were used by my elder brother and his children. In the first list made public on December 31, 2017, my elder brother and his two sons were included. I was called by the NRC officials for some queries they had. I appeared and clarified everything, and they were satisfied with my documents,” he said. “At that time, I had told them that I had a job offer from Bangalore. If you need further clarification, my brother will come, to which they had agreed”.
“When the draft list came, except we five – me, my wife and my three children, the names of rest of brothers and sisters were included,” he told Newsclick.
Asked if he thinks there is any discrepancy (major or minor) in his papers he had submitted, he said, “No, not at all. I used the same legacy data my brothers used, village documents and land documents of 1943.”
He had changed his wife’s name from Shadbano to Saleema Begum. He used the changed name in his service records, but did not get time to get her electoral roll records updated with the changed name because of service commitments.
“I produced relevant papers to support this. Her changed name is everywhere, including my service record and pension papers. But, I could not get it changed in the voters’ list because I was outside the state during my service period. If it was the reason, her name should not be included. I and my children should figure in the draft list,” he said.
Commenting on the time given for claims and objections, he said, “If someone appears in the examination and fails, he gets demoralised. We attempted twice but failed. It has brought our morale down.”
Samsul Haque Ahmed – who retired from the Indian Air Force as sergeant – and his family have been excluded from the NRC draft. The 57-year-old, who served the country for 35 years, came to his native place in the hope of living a peaceful life. But destiny had something else reserved for him. He has a challenge ahead to prove his citizenship once the claims and objections processes begin.
A resident of Balikuri NC village in Barpeta district, Samsul, said he was marked as ‘D-voter’ (doubtful voter) in 1997, but he had no idea about it. He came to know about it two years after his retirement in 2014.
“I was dubbed as a ‘D-voter’ in 1997, but no notice was sent to me. I approached the SP (border) office in February 2016, and got the case number. I went to the Foreigners’ Tribunal to ask them to issue a notice against me so that I can challenge it and prove my citizenship. After the notice, I submitted all my documents to the tribunal, which declared me as Indian citizen on June 1, 2016.
“The verdict said that we (he and his wife Nurjahan Ahmed) are not foreigners and we are the citizens of Assam,” he said.
He said he had submitted the NRC of 1951 wherein his father’s name is mentioned. “Apart from the 1951 NRC, I had submitted the land documents of late grandfather from 1931. My father, grandfather and great grandfather all lived in Assam. I had also submitted my passport and passing certificate of class 10. I had submitted the tribunal’s order to the NRC Seva Kendra on June 28 this year. Yet,my family name is not there,” he added.
In fact, his extended family have made it to the list, but not his family. “The same legacy data was used by my three brothers and all of them made it to the NRC draft, except for me, my wife and our two children,” he said.
Asked about the time given for claims and objections, “We will once again have to run from pillar to post. After serving the defence forces for 35 years, we are begging for citizenship. Do we deserve this?”
He is hopeful that he will make it to the final list, but still, the fear of being stateless has gripped his family. “This is the government’s fault. Their negligence can spoil someone’s life,” he said.
Sadullah Ahmed, who retired as a sergeant from the Indian Air Force in 2009, said he had submitted all requisite documents. “I had submitted 1951 NRC to 1970 voters’ list of my father. In addition, I had submitted the linkage documents such as admit card and school passing certificate. Despite this, my and my family’s name were excluded from the draft list,” he said.
His eldest sister was declared a foreigner in 1997 by the Foreigners’ Tribunal in Barpeta because she could not produce her marriage, birth and school certificates to prove her linkage with our father. “We come from a farmer’s family, and she had never been to a school. Therefore, she could not produce the documents required. We have proposed a DNA test so that it is proved scientifically,” he said.
Ahmed challenged the verdict in the Gauhati High Court, which upheld the tribunal’s verdict. Her case is now subjudice in the Supreme Court.
Interestingly, according to Ahmed, all her daughters – who are well educated, have been included in the draft list.
Four of Ahmed’s eight brothers, including him, are in the defense forces. He says, he has full faith in the law of the land, and feels that he will get justice.
Meanwhile, the apex court, taking suo motu cognizance of Hajela’s interview to a national daily, on August 7, rapped him and Registrar General and Census Commissioner (RGCC) Sailesh and warned them to be “cautious in future”.
Hajela had told the media that any valid document would be accepted as proof of citizenship during the hearing on complaints and objections by those left out in the draft NRC.
Taking suo motu cognisance of Hajela's interview to a national daily, Justice Gogoi – according to IANS – said, “Where is the necessity, scope and authority in you to make such a statement? Your job is to carry on with the draft and prepare the final NRC.”
Displeased over the action of Hajela, Justice Nariman said, “Speaking for myself, I was appalled by your action... And don't forget you are an officer of the court.”
Telling Hajela that “whatever you say, reflects on us”, the bench asked, “Should we send you both (including RGCC) to jail for contempt?”
The court told Hajela that he was first an officer of the court, and should not have spoken to the media about the NRC.
“It is most unfortunate on your part as well as the RGCC. Your job is to prepare the final NRC. Your job is not to go to press holding brief for somebody,” the bench said.
The court reminded RGCC Sailesh that on an earlier occasion, too, he was warned by the court on his actions vis-a-vis preparation of the NRC.
“And you, we had warned you before,” Justice Gogoi told Sailesh.